The front entrance to the Catalyst Cannabis Co. retail outlet in Santa Ana which is located right next to the 55 Fwy.
By DUANE ROBERTS Editor & Publisher
Damian Martin, Esq., co-founder of Catalyst CannabisCo., an expanding retail chain of “weed stores” with locations in Long Beach and Santa Ana, told The Anaheim Investigator via email he authored a measure in June 2021 that would have put the question of legalizing cannabis businesses before Anaheim voters the very next year had it collected the signatures needed to qualify for the ballot.
“However as also widely reported the South Bay projects began to go very poorly,” he typed. “[T]he cities were very opposed to us and our approach, and there were internal disagreements on project strategy, and, as a result, there was a falling out between Catalyst and Spiker Rendon, such that by March 2022, Catalyst and Mr. Spiker / Spiker Rendon were no long actively working together.”
“Prior to the falling out, Anaheim was a city that Catalyst was planning to pursue cannabis policy advancement and licensing with Adam Spiker / Spiker Rendon as our consultant using the ‘South Bay Model’, i.e., through a ballot measure…. I was asked by Mr. Spiker to draft (and then drafted) the initial version of what became ‘The Anaheim Cannabis Regulation and Land Use Measure’ in June 2021.”
Martin said that after Catalyst and Spiker parted ways, his firm decided to completely abandon the initiative. “Other than the initial drafting, Catalyst did not play a behind-the-scenes role in trying to get ‘The Anaheim Cannabis Regulation and Land Use Measure’ going,” he said. Furthermore, he emphasized they were “not involved in any political / community coalition building” to support it.
But it never made it to the ballot. On May 16th, Dalati withdrew the measure at the urging of Paul Kott and Bill Taormina, two prominent businessmen who were anti-pot and opposed to the legalization of cannabis businesses in Anaheim. Taormina would allege in a text message to Councilman Trevor O’Neil that Dalati had been “forced” to file it “by Jeff Flint and other ‘dope deal’ promoters.”
As we first reported, Todd Ament, president and CEO of the Anaheim Chamber of Commerce, Jeff Flint, president of Core Strategic Group, and Mayor Harry Sidhu approached UFCW Local 324 between 2019 and 2020 and cut a deal: that in return for a labor peace agreement in any ordinance they introduced to legalize cannabis businesses, the union was to pressure the council to vote “yes.”
Earlier this month, Adam Spiker declined to speak to The Investigator about this affair citing ongoing “local and federal investigations.” Though we don’t know how he managed to muscle his way into the arrangement the Anaheim Chamber of Commerce made with UFCW Local 324, the Orange County Register reported in May 2022 he had been in close contact with both Ament and Flint.
Ashleigh Aitken speaking at the headquarters of United Food and Commercial Workers Local 324 in November 2018.
By DUANE ROBERTS Editor & Publisher
In early January, Ashleigh Aitken, the newly-elected mayor of Anaheim, did what many public officials before her had done. She took full advantage of her unfettered access to the city’s vast pool of free tickets to luxury suites at the Honda Center and Angel Stadium and gave a few of them away to supporters who helped put her in office. Several emails show the mayor rattled off names of those she felt deserved them.
Besides the fact a Form 401 filed with the city clerk’s office reports that Smith was treasurer of an independent expenditure committee which spent $138,155 to help Aitken become mayor in 2022, The Anaheim Investigator has discovered his union has a “secret.” Though not criminal in nature, it’s deeply embarrassing. In fact, some people with intimate knowledge of it are apprehensive to talk about it openly with journalists.
It took The Investigator more than a year to find it, and that was only after painstaking research. However, all the effort put in was well worth it. We have uncovered a story that is not only remarkable, but lends credence to the old adage “politics makes strange bedfellows.” It involves an alliance of people with nothing in common, who were brought together by a shared interest. And it implicates Democrats and Republicans.
Todd Ament, Jeff Flint, and Harry Sidhu.
Reliable sources have told The Investigator that sometime in late 2019 or early 2020, Todd Ament, president and CEO of the Anaheim Chamber of Commerce, Jeff Flint, president of Core Strategic Group, and Mayor Harry Sidhu approached UFCW Local 324 and cut a deal: that in return for a labor peace agreement in any ordinance they introduced to legalize cannabis businesses, the union was to pressure the council to vote “yes.”
Ament, Flint, and Sidhu–sometimes euphemistically referred to as “the cabal”–already had three votes locked up, including Councilman Jordan Brandman’s, who reportedly was one of their point men. But they needed a total of four to get it passed. That’s where UFCW Local 324 came in. They would mobilize members of their union to aggressively lobby any possible holdouts. And indeed, there is evidence this did in fact occur.
Anaheim wasn’t the only city UFCW Local 324 was committed to getting a labor peace agreement. For example, minutes of one Stanton City Council meeting reveal: “Mr. Derek Smith, Political Director, UFCW 324, submitted an e-comment requesting that the City consider the inclusion of ‘Labor Peace’ language that would provide clarity to the cannabis industry and future workers regarding the quality of jobs that are expected from the City.”
For reasons that aren’t clear, Ament, Flint, and Sidhu abandoned the idea of getting a cannabis ordinance passed by council. The November 2020 election led to Avelino Valencia III and Jose Diaz winning seats. Though backed by Anaheim Chamber of Commerce, they weren’t trusted. And Gloria Ma’ae–who opposed the original ordinance–later replaced Brandman. But in late 2021, a new strategy emerged, thanks to UFCW Local 324.
The Silva petition.
On Friday, October 15, 2021, the Anaheim City Clerk received a letter from Stacy Silva declaring that it was her “intention to circulate a petition” to gather signatures to put an initiative on the ballot entitled “The Anaheim Cannabis Regulation and Land Use Measure.” She filed all the required paperwork and paid a $200 filing fee. Silva instructed the city clerk that all correspondence be sent to her lawyer at his Woodland Hills office.
Silva’s lawyer was Bradley Hertz, an election law attorney who had done work for Ament. A Form 410 filed with the city clerk’s office on September 26, 2018 reveals he was treasurer of an independent expenditure committee called “No on L, a Project of the Anaheim Chamber of Commerce,” which spent $932,053 in an unsuccessful attempt to defeat a measure which raised the wages of workers of hotels that received tax subsidies.
The text of the initiative Silva submitted was mostly a copy of the cannabis ordinance championed by Ament, Flint, and Sidhu in 2020. However, there were exceptions. First, the number of permitted cannabis retailers allowed to operate in the city was increased from from 20 to 30; one single entity could control up to five of them, instead of three. Second, the requirement workers be full-time to qualify for a labor peace agreement was scrapped.
Herein lies the “smoking gun” of UFCW Local 324’s alliance with the Anaheim Chamber of Commerce to legalize cannabis businesses. They first tried to pass an ordinance through the council, but failed. Now there was evidence they were collaborating on a ballot initiative. However, there is a catch. Ament had resigned before Silva filed her paperwork with the city clerk. That begs the question: who took his place?
Regardless of what the case might be, Silva withdrew her initiative on October 28th claiming it needed “minor edits.” Then she submitted a new version on November 22nd, which reinstated the requirement workers be full-time to qualify for a labor peace agreement. But after December 7th, everything stopped. When The Investigator asked City Clerk Theresa Bass what happened, she said Silva didn’t continue the filing process.
The Dalati petition.
Three months later, a new face appeared. Belal Dalati, a local real estate agent, walked into the city clerk’s office on Monday, March 21, 2022 with a letter notifying them it was his “intention to circulate a petition” to gather signatures to put a cannabis initiative on the ballot. Most of the paperwork he filed was identical to Silva’s. He used the same title, preamble, and law firm as a contact. But the text of the initiative was different.
Unlike Silva’s initiatives, Dalati’s came from Adam Spiker, of Spiker Rendon Consulting, Inc., a cannabis industry lobbyist located in downtown Los Angeles. The initiative he touted was very “pro-labor.” Not only did it drop the requirement workers be full-time to qualify for a labor peace agreement, but a points system was set up to give preferences to applicants of city licenses who had good employee and community benefits plans.
By May 16th, Dalati changed his mind. At the urging of Bill Taormina and Paul Kott, two local businessman who were opposed to legalizing cannabis businesses, he withdrew his initiative. In a text message Taormina sent to Councilman Trevor O’Neil, he alleged that “Bill Dahlati [sic] was forced into filing the petition by Jeff Flint and other ‘dope dealer’ promoters. He was actually threatened by them not to withdraw the petition ….”
In the days and weeks that followed, the public would learn–thanks to FBI affidavits released in court filings–this scandal wasn’t just about Sidhu and the stadium deal. At the very heart of it was Melahat Rafiei, a political consultant and Democratic Party operative, who is alleged to have committed various crimes in connection with the Anaheim Chamber Of Commerce’s attempt to legalize cannabis businesses.
However, in writing this article, The Investigator made a decision to mostly stay away from Rafiei. Why did we do this? First, her name didn’t pop up in anything having to do this story. Second, the FBI affidavits that have been released so far offer an incomplete and distorted view of what transpired. Third, the testimony offered in those affidavits are solely focused on proving violations of federal criminal laws. It doesn’t talk about what was legal.
Besides Rafiei, it’s erroneous to presume that everybody who worked along with Ament, Flint, and Sidhu to legalize cannabis businesses broke the law. Nothing can be further from the truth. The reality is, an overwhelming majority of people that ended up being dragged into this affair–including pretty much everybody we mentioned in this article–are innocent of any crimes. They are what we would call “victims of circumstance.”
The Investigatorknows despite our good faith efforts to gather accurate information for this article, what we have written isn’t the full story. And it’s possible a few corrections will need to be made as we learn more. But what’s important is we have exposed the biggest “secret” of this scandal: UFCW Local 324‘s alliance with the Anaheim Chamber of Commerce to legalize cannabis businesses. And it implicates Democrats and Republicans.
The political ramifications of this “secret” are political dynamite. For example, during last year’s election, in order to win the endorsement of the Orange County Register, then-candidate Aitken told the editors “the former mayor and his tightly knit ‘cabal’ were allowed to run roughshod at City Hall, and created a culture of intimidation for staff, management, concerned residents, and the smaller business community.”
What Aitken neglected to mention is UFCW Local 324, a major union of whom she has had close ties to since 2018, was involved in a “pot deal” with the same “former mayor and his tightly knit ‘cabal.'” Though there is no evidence of any criminal wrongdoing, it does vastly complicate things. Maybe she didn’t know about it, but giving $350 worth of city-owned tickets to Smith, their political director, won’t help her in any pleas of innocence.
For matter of record, The Investigator asked for interviews or sent questions outto Belal Dalati, Harry Sidhu, Derek Smith, Stacy Silva, Adam Spiker and others we believed had knowledge about this matter. Most didn’t answer our emails or reply to voice messages. One person declined to speak citing ongoing “local and federal investigations.” Ashleigh Aitken ignored our request for comment on the Anaheim Ducks tickets she gave to Smith.
Evidence reviewed by The Investigator–including campaign finance documents, numerous photographs, and archived websites–not only show that both women have contributed money to SOAR’s political action committee through various fundraisers, but that one of them was appointed to its separate advisory board in 2022.
Newby, a longtime resident of Anaheim, is the owner of Gallery Travel, a “full-service travel agency.” Between 2013 and 2014, she served on the board of directors of the Anaheim Chamber of Commerce and has been active in other groups formed by that body, such as Anaheim First, which was backed by former Mayor Harry Sidhu.
Multiple photographs in the possession of The Investigator show Newby has participated in SOAR fundraisers on and off since 2014. Form 460s filed by SOAR with the City Clerk’s office report she gave at least $100 to them on at least four different occasions (the last time being August 26, 2021), but did so under the name of her business.
That Campos-Kurtz has a close relationship with SOAR is of no surprise. Between 2014 and 2021, she worked for Democratic State Assemblyman Tom Daly, who was one of the earliest champions of this Disney-funded entity. Not only do Form 460s show that Daly got funds from them, but he bragged about their endorsement in 2012.
In 2020, SOARspent a whopping $405,710–the bulk of which came from The Walt Disney Company–to help Valencia get elected to his District 4 city council seat. It’s not a coincidence that at the time this was happening, he was working as a field representative for Daly and Campos-Kurtz just so happened to be his boss.
Screenshot from SOAR’s website.
Despite the fact eleven other people have filed applications seeking appointment to the District 4 city council seat, The Investigator believes that none of them ever stood a chance of being considered for this position. From our perspective, the decision as to who will replace Valencia had already been made weeks ago.
However, there appears to be no clear consensus on the Anaheim City Council right now as to whether they will pick Campos-Kurtz or Newby. There is a possibility the vote could end up deadlocked 3-3 for both. Regardless of what the case will be, the odds a candidate tied to SOAR will be chosen to fill this seat are quite high.
The document in question, which was submitted to the City of Anaheim on January 31, 2022, lists on page 77 that Progressive Solutions Consulting received the cash sometime between July and December of last year. The code used to identify the purpose of the payment is “CNS,” meaning Rafiei was consulting Ashleigh Aitken on her bid to become Anaheim’s next mayor.
In response to several questions The Investigator posed to Aitken about her relationship with Rafiei, the mayoral candidate acknowledged her “campaign contracted with Progressive Solutions Consulting at the end of 2021,” but said “we terminated our relationship with the company in February when Melahat Rafiei informed us that she was the subject of an investigation.”
Besides being a political consultant, Rafiei also happens to be the co-founder of WeCann, a company based near downtown Santa Anathat boasts itself as a “one-stop shop for cannabis entrepreneurs,” helping them with a wide array of issues ranging from “real estate acquisition and disposition, licensing fulfillment, business and investment consulting, and public advocacy.”
Reliable sources have told The Investigator that Cunningham, along with several associates, attended the September board meeting and delivered a presentation about his new blog, OC Independent, to members of that body. In addition, they claim shortly after he finished speaking, Gerry Serrano, president of the Santa Ana Police Officers Association, actively lobbied the board to write out a check to help fund it.
The Investigator first became aware of this matter back in December when it obtained emails exchanged between police officers stating the owner of the Anaheim Independent had gotten $10,000 from Serrano for his new blog and alleged it might be used as a platform to attack certain Santa Ana politicians. The Anaheim Independent is the previous name of the Anaheim Observer, an older blog that Cunningham still operates.
Excerpt from the board meeting minutes.
This newfound alliance between Cunningham and Serrano is yet another unexpected twist in The Investigator’s ongoing coverage of the embattled police union president of whom, at least from our perspective, has made what could be aptly described as a Faustian bargain with a political consultant who is sometimes at odds with–if not been completely opposed to–the goals of the Santa Ana Police Officers Association.
For example, on April 2, 2020, Cunningham made an urgent appeal to all of his Santa Ana friends on Facebook to vote “no” on the recall of Councilwoman Ceci Iglesias, a right-wing Republican the police union spent $341,000 to remove from her seat. Beneath his message was one of her anti-recall videos which not only portrayed Serrano as a greedy “union boss,” but characterized people like him as “bullies.”
There is no evidence the OC Independent receives any direct funding from the Anaheim Chamber of Commerce. But it is not a coincidence many political consultants with links to the Orange County Republican Party gravitate to this business advocacy group. This entity has always been an important hub of social networks for jobs because it is connected to many key players in industry and government.
For matter of record, The Investigator emailed several questions to Cunningham asking him about the $10,000 donation he received from the Santa Ana Police Officers Association, if he had conversations with Serrano or anybody else about the OC Independent running “negative articles about certain Santa Ana politicians,” and if he plans to approach other public employee unions for money to help fund this blog.
In response to our inquiry, Cunningham wrote the following:
OC Independent, like other independent news organizations, has a broad base of supporters to pursue its mission. We will not sell, share or trade our donors’ names or personal information with any other entity, nor send mailings to our donors on behalf of other organizations to respect donor privacy. As editor, I ensure our news stories are researched thoroughly, all subjects and stakeholders have an opportunity to comment, and then present the news to the public.
The Investigator also made three attempts to contact Serrano about this matter, emailing him questions quite similar to those we posed to Cunningham. But despite giving him an ample amount of time to issue a response, the police union president so far has not bothered replying to any of our messages. However, if we do eventually hear from him, we will most assuredly let our readers know.
Below is copy of the draft minutes of the September 23, 2021 board meeting of the Santa Ana Police Officers Association.
Mayor Harry Sidhu (left) welcoming Gloria Ma’ae (right) to his “Victory Party” at his four-acre Anaheim Hills estate in December 2018.
By DUANE ROBERTS Editor & Publisher
During the Tuesday, September 14th meeting of the Anaheim City Council, when Councilman Jose Moreno began raising objections to the “process” that body had chosen to select a replacement candidate for a councilman who had vacated his seat, hinting it was “preordained,” or rigged in favor of applicant Gloria Ma’ae, Mayor Harry Sidhu could barely contain his anger.
“Councilmember Moreno, I’m very much disappointed in you in bringing this up,” Sidhu said in a raised tone of voice. “It is one of the fairest process we’ve been through. We gave every applicant an opportunity to meet with the residents. We gave every opportunity for the residents to come out and speak, whether in favor, or whether in opposition of the candidates who applied.”
“It was given opportunity of the applicant to have one-to-one meet with the councilmembers,” he continued. “[T]he way it was done, was proper, giving everybody an opportunity to come and speak. I spoke, and I sat down with every applicant here …. [Y]ou’re trying to talk about unfair process is … in my opinion, is wrong. And this was a completely a transparent process…”
Likewise, at the September 14th council meeting, when Sidhu tried to rush through Ma’ae’s appointment with very little discussion or input, he said nothing about his close personal ties with her. Besides the fact Ma’ae is a known supporter of the mayor, she was a “special guest” at a “Victory Party” he held on his four-acre Anaheim Hills estate in December 2018.
Sidhu giving Ma’ae a hug.
The Investigator has roughly a dozen photographs of Ma’ae that were taken at the event. Besides the three we have published here, others show her mingling with then-Councilman Jordan Brandman and Lea Ament, the wife of Todd Ament, President and CEO of the Anaheim Chamber. In most photos, Ma’ae is seen with persons who would later be linked to Anaheim First.
Ma’ae chatting with Sidhu.
Despite what reservations The Investigator has about Moreno, he was correct: Ma’ae’s appointment was “preordained.” However, the “process” of selecting her really began in 2007 when she started participating in a “front group” called Support Our Anaheim Resort,run by a Newport Beach public relations expert hired by The Walt Disney Company and Anaheim Chamber.
Recently, “front groups” like SOAR, and now Anaheim First, have been one mechanism the resort elite has used to vet candidates for appointment to various boards, commissions and city council seats. The decision to put Ma’ae on the council was years in the making. That doesn’t mean Sidhu’s role should be discounted. But he’s just a cog in a much bigger political machine.
[Update: An earlier version of this post stated Gloria Ma’ae started participating in Support Our Anaheim Resort in 2011. That is incorrect. She began in 2007.]
Tony Serna, Vice-President of Agency 51, a Santa Ana advertising firm that has been a hidden force behind Anaheim First.
By DUANE ROBERTS Editor & Publisher
Much has been written aboutAnaheim First, the faux grassroots organization which, according to legal documents filed with the California Secretary of State in 2019, is controlled by Todd Ament, President and CEO of the Anaheim Chamber of Commerce. But very little, if anything, has been said about another entity thathas been a hidden force behind it.
If you have ever seen Anaheim First’s full page ads in a newspaper, a slick mailer inviting you to attend one of their town hall forums, or observed members wearing those proverbial blue shirts, you saw the handiwork of Agency 51, an advertising firm located in downtown Santa Ana, literally a block away from the Ronald Reagan Federal Building and Courthouse.
On its LinkedIn page, Agency 51describes itself as a “full-service integrated marketing communications agency with offices in Orange County, CA, specializing in implementing complex, strategic advertising programs.” Founded as a partnership in 2001, it has two offices nationwide: one in Santa Ana and another in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania.
Agency 51 boasting about Anaheim First on its website.
Because of the COVID-19 pandemic, Anaheim First was reinvented as a marketing tool to help local restaurants, microbreweries, wine bars, and other businesses survive the economic downturn. For months, residents have seen ads on social media sites, much like the one on Agency 51’sYouTube page, offering discounts for food, drink, and other items.
However, as more people get vaccinated and life returns back to “normal,” it will undoubtedly revert to its original form. At the March 23rd meeting of the Anaheim City Council, Mayor Harry Sidhu reaffirmed his commitment to the Chamber-backed group. He is up for re-election next year. Given Anaheim First is stacked with his allies, he’ll need all the support he can get.
Greg Garcia, Interim City Manager, speaks about the proposed ordinance to legalize cannabis businesses during a Zoom townhall forum.
By DUANE ROBERTS Editor & Publisher
At a Zoom townhall forum that Dr. Jose Moreno, councilman for District 3, hosted on Monday, May 11th, Greg Garcia, the Interim City Manager, told the online audience that the Anaheim Chamber of Commerce was behind efforts to legalize cannabis businesses within the City of Anaheim.
Revelations about the Chamber’s role in this matter, which up until now has been kept hidden from the public, was brought to the forefront by questions The Anaheim Investigator posed to Garcia during the forum. The Investigator specifically wanted to know who helped craft the proposed cannabis ordinance.
“We did put together a team internally of city staff and we also utilized some consultants to help us with the drafting and looking into other jurisdictions and run an analysis for us,” Garcia replied.
But he further added:
Also, to go back to the beginning, I think a lot of this came about because of a local task force that was put together by the Chamber that worked with hoteliers and others and businesses in Anaheim that were afraid that cannabis was going to be thrust upon us by the industry and therefore I think they took the time to think about if we were to do it in an Anaheim way, how would we do it, and then they shared that information I guess with some council members, and with us, and then council then directed us to continue looking at that and figuring out the best way to do it, Anaheim way….
The video of the May 11th townhall forum, which lasted about an hour and fifteen minutes, is available on Councilman Moreno’s Facebook page and can be viewed here or in the link below:
Matthew and Laura Cunningham are greeted as they arrive at Mayor Harry Sidhu’s “State of the City” address at the City National Grove last March
By DUANE ROBERTS Editor & Publisher
For several months now, Matthew Cunningham, the publisher of the Anaheim Blog, a website that covers city politics from a right-wing perspective, has shamelessly promoted Anaheim First, a 501(c)(3) non-profit founded by the Anaheim Chamber of Commerce, as being a “grass-roots community organization.”
In one article after another, Cunningham has lauded it as a being a “non-political” group made up of “residents of all ages, from every walk of life and every part of the city” who got together “to develop a resident-driven plan for guiding city investment in their neighborhoods,” blasting critics who call it a “front” for big business.
But in all of the articles he has penned about Anaheim First so far, he has neglected to mention two crucial details. First, his wife, Laura Cunningham, has played a behind-the-scenes role in organizing “town hall forums” for this non-profit. And second, she has been Senior Vice President of the AnaheimChamber at least since July.
Laura Cunningham oversees a breakout group at the Anaheim First Neighborhood Leadership Summit on July 10th.
From the back of the room, Laura Cunningham directed [Karen] Gulley to wrap up her presentation so that the town hall could turn to breakout groups. She’s the wife of Anaheim Blog’s Matt Cunningham who, unsurprisingly, wrote uncritically of the event while finding an opportunity to hammer away at Unite Here Local 11 union members for crashing the discussion session. Todd Ament, Anaheim Chamber of Commerce president and Anaheim First board member, confirmed to the Weekly that Laura worked for the Chamber, but not Anaheim First. The distinction didn’t seem to matter much during the town hall–or after. Laura helped clean up the gym to close out the night.
“This is a meeting to discuss the next steps of the group and our role,” wrote Garcia. “PlaceWorks [a consulting firm hired by Anaheim First] will be a part of the meeting to talk us through their plan.” Attendees included representatives from the Anaheim Chamber: Todd Ament, President and CEO, and Laura, who was listed as a contact.
In another email obtained by the Investigator, Mike Lyster, Chief Communications Officer for the City of Anaheim, was contacted by Laura on August 21st about setting up a meeting with him on an unrelated matter. She signed off using the title “Senior Vice President.” Attached to it was the logo of the Anaheim Chamber.
But most curiously, Matthew Cunningham has said nary a word about Laura’s work with Anaheim First. Of course, to acknowledge this would tear to shreds the narrative he has woven about it being a “grass-roots community organization.” Since when do ordinary people recruit business executives to set up their neighborhood meetings?
Furthermore, his wife’s relationship with the Anaheim Chamberraises questions as to how the Anaheim Blog reports the news. For example, does the favorable coverage that Cunningham offers Anaheim First reflect his genuine love and affection for that group? Or is he really doing it because he wants to help his wife succeed at her job?
Cunningham has long since denied his blog is being paid for by the Anaheim Chamber. But does it really matter? Both he and his wife have received thousands of dollars of income from them over the years. Doesn’t that serve as a strong enough disincentive for him to post articles on his blog that they might not like?
At the March 5th “State of the City” Address, Mayor Harry Sidhu shakes hands with Xochitl Medrano, while her father, Ernesto Medrano, looks on.
By DUANE ROBERTS Editor & Publisher
The Anaheim Investigator is in possession of evidence which now confirms that Xochitl Medrano, Director of Community Engagement for Anaheim First, a shady 501(c)(3) non-profit organization created by the Anaheim Chamber of Commerce to promote its interests, is the daughter of Ernesto Medrano, a member of the Anaheim FirstAdvisory Council in District 5.
But based on a careful review of dozens of photographs, screenshots of messages posted on social media, and various public records, the Investigator has determined that there is more than enough court-worthy evidence available to conclude that Xochitl is in fact Ernesto’s daughter.
Xochitl speaking at a WAND meeting.
Registered to vote in Whittier
Furthermore, the Investigator has evidence suggesting that at the time Xochitl became an Anaheim First director, she has never been an Anaheim resident, calling into question a claim she made at a June 12th meeting of the West Anaheim Neighborhood Development Council saying the reason why she joined this group was because “actual residents” invited her to become a part of it.
In reply to a question posed to Xochitl about how she “was asked to be involved” with Anaheim First, she offered a rambling response:
I was approached by actual residents and some of them come from District 5, and I also was approached by other residents from District 4 and they were talking about this group, and they just wanted to know more about it; and I also got to see the State of the City from the mayor. I watched that presentation and I was really interested to learn more about what it really takes to understand civic engagement and how it is not the same as political engagement.
But it would have been somewhat difficult for “actual residents” of any these districts to have “approached” her in person because public records make it clear she has never lived in Anaheim. For example, the Los Angeles County Registrar of Voters database shows that Xochitl was–and still is–registered to vote at a home in the City of Whittier, in a neighborhood more than sixteen miles away.
One “actual resident” Xochitl was acquainted with, however, is her father, Ernesto, who is a resident of District 5. The Investigator obtained a photograph of her standing near him while shaking hands with Mayor Harry Sidhu at the March 5th “State of the City” Address at the City National Grove.A month after this encounter, she began boasting on Facebook that she “started a new job” with Anaheim First.
Last year, Medrano was a key spokesperson for the “No on Measure L” campaign, a political committee set up by the Anaheim Chamber to oppose a successful ballot initiative that raised wages for workers employed by taxpayer-subsidized hotels in the Anaheim Resort area. Documents filed with the city clerk show this committee received most of its funding from big hotel developers.
Ernesto Medrano, Todd Ament, and William O’Connell pose for the camera at a “No on Measure L” press conference in 2018.
Hundreds of photographs reviewed by the Investigator show Medrano was a “special guest” at Mayor Sidhu’s “Victory Party” at his four-acre Anaheim Hills estate last December. Other persons also in attendance were Todd Ament, CEO of the Anaheim Chamber, William O’Connell, developer of the JW Marriot hotel, and Jordan Brandman, a Councilman and close friend of Medrano.
It should be no surprise to anybody that Ernesto Medrano’s daughter ended up as a director for Anaheim First. Through his work as a spokesperson with the “No on Measure L” committee, he formed close ties with Ament, who not only is CEO of the Anaheim Chamber, but he is one of the founders of Anaheim First and serves on its Board of Directors. Ament is in a position to decide who gets hired by that entity.
Nobody should be shocked to learn that former Councilwoman Kris Murray and Leslie Swan are also employed in key positions with Anaheim First. Besides the fact both of them are known political operatives, they have been friends with Ament for years through their affiliation with the Anaheim Hills Community Council, whose non-profit he controls. And like Medrano, both of them have ties to Sidhu.
As the Investigator did with our article revealing Murray’s hidden role with Anaheim First, we believe exposing these relationships not only helps underscore the political nature of this group, but to show how fraudulent it is. The Anaheim Chamber is trying to dupe people into thinking this is a “grassroots organization,” when in reality, it is a private club of mostly Sidhu lackeys handpicked to promote their agenda.
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